Scorched earth policy

Thursday, 29 April 2010 

But perhaps the Government’s going cold on emissions trading because its polling shows the electorate’s cooling on global warming. What was a huge political positive in 2006 is becoming a liability. Since 2006, the Lowy Institute has conducted a yearly poll which asks whether Australians should take action on climate change, even if it involves significant cost. 68 per cent of those polled agreed with that proposition in 2006. That’s now down to 46 per cent.

Chris Uhlmann The 7.30 Report

Just for the record, the poll that Uhlmann refers to actually shows that action on climate change at some cost is supported by a mere 87% of those polled, plummeting from 93% in 2006. The real change has been the split between those who think it should be done urgently at significant cost, down from 68% to 48% (not 46%) towards those who think it should be done slowly at less cost, up from 24% to 39%. But even this is contradicted by another question in the same poll that found while 76% believed climate change is a problem, of those, 60% believe it has become more urgent over the last year. Whatever it means, if action supported by the overwhelming bulk of the population, and by half at significant cost, counts as a political liability, what does political cowardice mean?

In one sense, the media’s overstating of the political liability of climate change action, rather than, say, the political liability of the Coalition’s scepticism (which is presumably why they hide it), is simply carrying on their inability to acknowledge the popularity of a position that doesn’t fit with the prejudice that the Australian electorate can’t think beyond its wallet. But it is also an attempt by the media to try and put the government’s backing away from the climate change agenda into a normal political context of political popularity.

It would seem at this point quite possible that this will be the first government for at least a generation, either Coalition or Labor, to run its full term without being behind in a single poll. Despite all the hoo-hah from the right press, Abbott has done no more than to continue one of the most extraordinarily poor run of polls for the Coalition since the Liberal party was the formed. In fact, even more striking than polling numbers is that in the run up to this election, the Abbott leadership suggests the Liberal party seems least interested in winning it, compared to cheering themselves up that they stand for something. This is supposed to be something Labor does, not Australia’s most successful political machine. On all polling data and given the state of the opposition, this government should be approaching re-election more confident than any in living memory.

And yet. This is a government that came to power less with a programme than a political agenda. The only real source of any action for this government lay overseas but the problem for this government is that the overseas political agenda is adrift. As the government has finally admitted, the international momentum behind the climate change agenda has fallen away since Copenhagen. Without any real international agenda, it has left it without any real domestic one as well. Some may like to think that the government can at least claim it kept Australia out of recession. But part of the reason the government didn’t suffer like governments usually do before a slowdown, is that few held them responsible for the economy anyway, and the government probably can’t rely much on credit for it now.

If the government is struggling to find something to stand for, then anti-politics might be the best tactic. This means laying waste to anything it might be accused of standing for, such as a softer approach on asylum seekers, big government spending, climate change, etc., in order to clear the path for an attack on those that do. We have already had the attack on the states through health reform, which, however real it was, can at least be claimed as some victory by the government. Now they can claim Liberal obstructionism in much the same way. Fortunately for Labor, given the Liberals current obsession over what they are about, this will probably work. Or at least the backdown will be less of a political problem for Rudd than the media, desperate for the old argy-bargy to continue, may claim. But less so, if at some point the Liberals decide to lay down and and stand for nothing too.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 29 April 2010.

Filed under Tactics

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6 responses to “Scorched earth policy”

  1. Ricc on 29th April 2010 10:49 am

    The media are also too focussed on US politics, where there actually is a significant conservative opposition – and assume there is one here too.

    Has anyone spotted the unlikely parallel between the Tasmanian election and the possible outcome of the UK election.

    Hare Clark or no Hare Clark, we maybe moving into a period of minority or loose coalition governments.

    There have also been moren revelations coming from former News Ltd editors that they do fit up the news to fit the biases of themselves and Rupert.

  2. James on 29th April 2010 1:38 pm

    The media are a huge problem regarding how government’s respond to things. Perhaps governments should do away with media units and return to the ways of old? At least then they couldn’t be accused of responding to everything with spin – an allegation that seems to weave so much traction in this anti-politics era. If you give the mainstream media a much smaller target, then perhaps they would start to honestly question what they actually stand for. Right now they seem to see themselves as the white knights fighting the evil government spin machines. The media doesn’t appear to see itself as part of the problem. Rather deluded of them don’t you think?

  3. mehitabel on 30th April 2010 9:18 am

    The Liberals stand for something?

    Look, normally I’m with you, but to suggest that the Liberals have any idea of what they stand for other than it isn’t what Labor’s talking about doing at the moment is just flabbergasting.

    If the Liberals – or even Tony Abbott – stood for things, they wouldn’t be so hard to deal with in negotiations. They would be able to hold a policy line long enough to have an actual policy, rather than a series of thought bubbles which they disown as soon as someone curls their lip at them. The few policy ideas they do have would be more than a mere scribble on the back of a napkin but would be detailed, costed and nuanced.

    The Liberals haven’t stood for anything for ages. They are willing to adopt almost any position on almost anything if it looks popular.

    They say they stand for a lot of things, such as small government and lower taxes but these statements are contradicted by their own record in government and the logical extention of their (few) policy positions.

    Sure, there’s a few things they won’t do, just as there are a few things Labor won’t do, either.

  4. Ricc on 30th April 2010 12:54 pm

    James, not a bad idea. I’ve often wondered if the best way to treat journalists is to a) send them boxes and boxes of public documents, so they have to wade through them to find news, b) answer all questions matter-of-factly so that the sense of scandal diminishes quickly, and c) treat the bloggers and journos equally, so that the public cease valuing the extra cost of journalism. If you are just as likely to read free current news here or some other political blog as in the pay media, why would you pay? They would be out of business very quickly.

    I was searching for information on the film Invictus recently. A link came through to a story in the Australian; again with an inflamatory right wing headline. What was amazing though, I clicked through to the Arts column of the OZ – not a single story that didn’t have some ideological bent. Couldn’t just say they went to the ballet and enjoyed it – everything, even the Arts, written through the ideological prism. They are as bad as the Left they parody.

  5. The Piping Shrike on 30th April 2010 4:54 pm

    mehitabel, I agree with you. More accurately, I should have said the Liberals are trying to stand for something. Given there is no real basis for it, especially from their business supporters, then it will just annoy anyone else and Rudd’s “scorched earth policy” will probably work.

  6. Graeme on 1st May 2010 12:47 pm

    The media meme du jour (mois?) is ‘Rudd panicking, weak, small target, jettisoning’. There’s some truth to all of that. But they have ignored the Henry tax supertanker sailing onto the scene; offering a fat resources tax with sweeteners for everyone else. Labor of course won’t have time or political need to introduce any of it: but they’ll endorse key elements and claim to be reforming, modernising.

    Seems clear Labor is gearing up for a twin pillar campaign – economy and health – leaving Abbott on the sideline carping about health minutiae and ‘new taxes’.

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